As part of the phase-wise unlocking of activities, the ministry of health and family welfare on Tuesday issued the standard operating procedures (SOPs) for a partial reopening schools. It also released the preventive measures to contain the spread of Covid-19 in skill or entrepreneurship training institutions, higher educational institutions conducting doctoral courses, and post-graduate studies.

The SOPs are based on the activities permitted by the ministry of home affairs under “Unlock 4”, the order for which was issued on August 29.

As per the SOP for reopening of schools, which would be effective from September 21, 2020, the students from Class IX onwards would be allowed to visit schools on a “voluntary basis, for taking guidance from their teachers.”

Students will be allowed to visit schools subject to the written consent of their parents/ guardians and the visits and teacher-student interaction must be organized in a staggered manner.

The SOP for higher education stated that entrepreneurship training has been permitted in national skill training institutes, industrial training institutes, short term training centres registered with National Skill Development Corporation or State Skill Development Missions or other Ministries of Government of India or State government, National Institute for Entrepreneurship and Small Business Development (NIESBUD), Indian Institute of Entrepreneurship (IIE), and their training providers.

For higher educational institutions conducting Ph.D. or technical and professional programmes requiring laboratory/ experimental works will be permitted by the department of higher education in consultation with MHA.

Both the SOPs outlined various generic precautionary measures to be adopted in addition to specific measures to be taken when schools are permitting student which include physical distancing of at least six feet, mandatory use of face covers/ masks, frequent hand washing, self-monitoring of health by all and reporting any illness and prohibition on spitting, among others.

Only schools and HEIs outside the containment zones shall be allowed to open. Moreover, students, teachers, and employees living in containment zones are not allowed to attend the school/ institutions and they are advised not to visit areas falling within non-containment zones as per the health ministry guidelines adding that the schools that were used as quarantine centres will be properly sanitized and deep cleaned before partial functioning is resumed.

Assemblies, sports, and events, which can lead to overcrowding, are strictly prohibited in the schools that are opting to start operations. The government also said that online or distance learning shall continue to be permitted and shall be encouraged.

Only asymptomatic people (teachers, employees, and students) will be allowed in the school premises as per the guidelines. If a teacher/employee/student is found to be symptomatic, he/she should be referred to the nearest health centre, the SOPs state.

The guidelines stated that the concerned teaching- and non-teaching employees (up to 50 % of the strength) may be called to schools for online teaching/tele-counseling and related work. Apart from mandatory masks, following regular sanitization, respiratory etiquettes, hand washing in schools, the health ministry said that at all times, the teachers and students shall maintain a physical distancing of 6 feet apart, wherever feasible. The seating arrangement has to ensure a distance of 6 feet between chairs, desks, etc.

The health ministry has advised that weather permitting, outdoor spaces may be utilized for conducting teacher-student interactions, keeping in view the safety and security of students and physical distancing protocols.

“Cleaning and regular disinfection (using 1% sodium hypochlorite) of frequently touched surfaces (doorknobs, elevator buttons, handrails, chairs, benches, washroom fixtures, etc.) to be made Page 5 of 5 mandatories in all classrooms, laboratories, lockers, parking areas, other common areas, etc. before the beginning of classes and at the end of the day,” the guidelines state.

As during the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been instances of mental health issues among students, the health ministry has said that the schools should ensure regular counseling is done for students and teachers reporting mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. It is advisable that teachers, school counselors, and school health workers should work in unison to ensure the emotional safety of the students, say SOPs.

Similar SOPs were also issued on preventive measures to contain the spread of COVID-19 in skill or entrepreneurship training institutions, higher educational institutions conducting doctoral courses, and post-graduate studies in technical and professional programs requiring laboratory /experimental work.

India continues to grapple with pandemic as the number of COVID-19 cases continue to increase. The total tally of cases on Tuesday reached 42,85,174 with 73,208 people succumbing to the highly infectious disease. According to the health ministry, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh, and Tamil Nadu are the five states which account for 62% of the active cases. Maharashtra’s share is around 27% of the total active cases, which in terms of absolute numbers is 2.37 lakhs. This apart, nearly 70% of the COVID-19 related deaths are also being reported from 5 states, that is, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, and Uttar Pradesh.

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